ANZAC Day Commemoration Speech
Given to the Indianapolis Australian Society
Indianapolis, Indiana
April 25, 2007

By Dr. David M. Hart

Bio: David Hart was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. He has studied modern European history in Australia (B.A. (Hons) Macquarie Univeristy, Sydney), the Federal Republic of Germany (Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz), the USA (M.A. Stanford University), and the United Kingdom (PhD King’s College, Cambridge). For 15 years he taught in the Department of History at the University of Adelaide teaching courses in 19th century European history, the Enlightenment, German history, the Holocaust, film and history, and war studies. He also won the University of Adelaide's prestigious Stephen Cole the Elder Prize for Teaching. His areas of interest are the intellectual and cultural history of war, history and film, and early 19th French political and economic thought. He now resides in Indianapolis, Indiana where he works for a non-profit educational foundation building an online library of classic texts which recently won a National Endowment for the Humanties "Best of the Humanities on the Web" award.


I'd like to welcome you all here today to the 2nd Indy Aussies ANZAC Day commemoration. Last year I gave a speech which focused on the "First Generation"of ANZACs, those who fought in WW1. In that talk I made the following points:

  1. I explained to our American friends what ANZAC Day is and what it means to Australians and New Zealanders. ANZAC stands for "Australia and New Zealand Army Corps," a fighting force which was part of a joint invasion force made up of British, French, Australian, New Zealand, and other nations’ troops, which landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in what then was part of the Ottoman Empire (an ally of the German Empire) and what is today Turkey, on 25th April 1915, some 92 years ago. They lost, and lost miserably and were forced to retreat. Americans find it hard to understand why Australia's equivalent of Memorial Day takes place on such an unfortunate anniversary as this.
  2. I also discussed the extraordinary sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand lives in WW1 (at least as a percentage of population of what were then very small countries). Total deaths for WW1 amounted to about 20 million people – a staggering number until WW2 eclipsed this figure (63 million). Of this, about 62,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders died. It seems a relatively small figure until one compares it to the total size of these countries' small populations. In the case of Australia, 60,000 soldiers were killed out of a total population of 4.5 million (death rate of 1.38%). For New Zealand, 18,000 were killed out of a population of 1.1 million (death rate of 1.64%). To compare this to a more recent American experience, some 58,000 Americans were killed during the Vietnam War out of a population of around 200 million (death rate of 0.029%) (in comparison, 2-3 million Indochinese died). If the USA in Vietnam had suffered the same death rate as Australia in WWI it would have had 1.2 million dead (this is twice the number of Americans who died in the Civil War).
  3. Another aspect of the ANZAC tradition which puzzles Americans is the respect the ANZACs show towards the enemy that defeated them. From the very beginning ANZAC soldiers highly respected the courage, endurance, and patriotism of the Turkish soldiers who drove them from the Gallipoli Peninsula in defeat. Perhaps in honouring the enemy the ANZACs are also honouring themselves; or perhaps in the horrors of war they can see a universal human experience which transcends the divide between comrade and enemy.
  4. Yet another aspect of the ANZAC tradition which puzzles non-Australians is the very high regard given to the heroism of men who do no fighting and take no lives. Surely the antithesis of the tradition notion of the heroic soldier. In WW1 one of the most revered men who served in Gallipoli was Simpson, a medic, who used a donkey to rescue injured ANZACs from the battlefield.
These factors - the memory of military defeat, the realization that men sometimes die senselessly as a result of military blunders and stupidity, pride in the courage and endurance of our soldiers, the grief caused by such enormous loss of life, the respect for the enemy and their losses, and the belief that true heroism takes many forms - make up powerful and sometimes contradictory currents which swirl about in the emotions of Australians when they think of ANZAC Day.

Today I want to look at the "Second Generation" of ANZACs, those who fought in WW2, the single biggest war of the 20thC with the highest number of casualties (63 million dead) and biggest destruction of property (entire cities were destroyed in a single night). Because it was a true "world" war, involving European, African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Pacific theatres, once again Australians and New Zealanders were sent literally half way around the world to fight. It reminds me of the famous witticism of the late 19th century American journalist, Ambrose Bierce (who fought in the American Civil War on the Union side) - "war is God's way of teaching Americans geography." It could be said to equally apply to the ANZACs. Without war, why would Australians and New Zealanders have ever made the word "Gallipoli" such an important part of their culture?

But first, let us note a number of important events which took place in interwar period

  • Between the end of WW1 on 11 November 1918 and the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939 with Nazi invasion of Poland (US did not enter WW2 until the Japanese attack on Pearl Habor in December 1941) Anzac day had become a well established tradition boosted by the creation of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the creation in 1920s of thousands of war memorials in almost every country town across Australia
  • although Australia had achieved political independence from Britain in 1901 in many ways it was still an Imperial "Dominion" in that foreign policy, defence, and important national symbols were still controlled from London. Australia was dependent upon the British Navy (based in Singapore) for its defence, its national anthem was still "God Save the King", its flag was an ensign of the British flag (Union Jack in top left hand corner), Australians still regarded themselves as "Britons living in Australia" and thus loyal to the Empire.
  • the outcome of WW1 laid the ground work for WW2 (and the present conflict in Iraq) in the punitive Versailles Treaty and the carving up of the Ottoman Empire (the Middle East) between the British and French Empires
  • in many respects "WW2" broke out in the early and mid-1930s and not in 1939 for Europe and its colonies or 1941 for the US. In Europe, the Spanish Civil War was a precursor to the struggle between democracy and fascism, with brigades of foreign supporters of democracy (British, French, American) fighting against Gen. Franco and his Nazi allies (the bombing of Guernica in 1937), and the nations of Asia and the Pacific were fearfully watching the Japanese Empire seize control of Manchuria and parts of China in 1931.

When war broke out in Europe in September 1939 the European great powers and their colonies and dominions were immediately involved. Australia rushed troops literally half way across the world to defend the British Empire, just as it had done in 1914, against a resurgent German Empire which was seeking colonies and Lebensraum in eastern Europe and North Africa. As a consequence, Australians (and New Zealanders, Canadians, and even some Americans) fought in conflicts such as:

  • the Battle of Britain (an air battle to defeat the Luftwaffe),
  • the defence of Britain's important protectorate in Egypt (defeating Rommel's armies in North Africa - the "Rats of Tobruk" (Lybia)) in order to secure the Suez Canal, Britain vital link to its colony in India
  • and Mesopotamia - the British Navy had converted its ships from coal power to diesel and had realised the importance of oil deposits in the Middle East

But the war changed dramatically for Australia and New Zealand when the Japanese Empire attacked America's naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December, 1941 and then went on to achieve stunning victories in its conquest of South East Asia in early 1942 (knocking France out of Indo-China, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Americans from the Philippines, and most importantly for Australia, the British in Singapore). The Japanese attack was partly in response to the economic blockade the British and Americans had imposed on Japan (virtually an act of war in itself) in order to deprive the Japanese Empire of the oil and raw materials it needed for its conquest of China (just imagine the American reaction if China or Russia placed an economic blockade on the US and denied it access to its oil imports from the Middle East or Venezuela).

With the rapid capitulation and surrender of the British in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand suddenly lost the main line of their national defense. They also lost thousands of men and women who were captured by the Japanese (along with British and Dutch nationals) and forced into slave labour camps to build the Thai-Burma railway (in order to threaten British India from the east)) or into prostitution for the Imperial Japanese Army. They were left completely exposed to the hostile forces sweeping across SE Asia (the "yellow hordes" of popular anti-asian racism which still continues to this day). This was an utter catastrophe and something never conceived of by Australian politicians and military planners. Wasn't the British Navy and Empire meant to be invincible? Wasn't it true that "the sun never sets on the British Empire"? Apparently not. Australian troops were rushed home from service in the UK, North Africa, and Mesopotamia to defend the homeland (as if 7 million Aussies could defend a country the size of the continental US from 100 million Japanese). The Japanese did bomb the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory, Sydney was attacked by midget submarines, and plans were drawn up by the Australian military to abandon everything north of "the Brisbane line" in case of a full blown Japanese invasion.

Thus began the 60 year long alliance between the US and Australia. Having been defeated and forced to withdraw from its colonies in the Philippines by the all conquering Japanese Empire, the Americans suddenly discovered Australia - a large, prosperous, democratic, English speaking country bordering South East Asia, with enormous resources to help shelter and rebuild the shattered armies of Gen. MacArthur. Australia also discovered America - a country with a large navy and air force which could step into the shoes so suddenly vacated by the rapidly disintegrating British Empire and defend Australia from the feared Asian hordes. It was from Australia that the Americans began their hard island-by-island advance through the Pacific (starting with Guadalcanal) to eventually take the Japanese homeland islands in 1945.

Just as WW1 produced its own list of military exploits which have gone down into ANZAC lore, so too did WW2. And it is fitting and proper that today we recall some of those moments:

  1. those airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain which denied Hitler his aim of invading Britain in order to knock it out of the war, end the threat from his western flank, and thus make his way clear to seize territory in eastern Europe.
  2. the soldiers who resisted the siege of Tobruk in north Africa (Lybia) by Rommel's armies, thus denying the Nazis a foothold in Africa, control over the strategic Suez canal in Egypt, and therefore enabling North Africa to be the staging ground for the eventual invasion of Europe from the south (via Italy) by the Americans and the British
  3. the soldiers who were captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore and forced to endure appalling conditions as POWs in places like Changi (now the location of Singapore's international airport) or as slave labourers building the Thai-Burma railway.
  4. the soldiers who fought in vicious jungle warfare against the Japanese in the defense of New Guinea (the staging point for a possible invasion of Northern Australia (iron ore)) and then in numerous Pacific islands
  5. the soldiers, airman, and naval men who took part in the Normandy invasion in 1944

As with WW1, when we examine the death rates of the various countries which took part in WW2 we can see the high cost war placed on Australian and New Zealand ANZACS. In WW2 Australia had 40,500 killed out of a total population of 7 million (death rate of 0.58%). NZ had 11,900 killed out of population of 1.6 million (death rate of 0.73%). The biggist losers of course were Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union which lost the following in dead:

  • Germany - 7.5 million dead out of pop. of 69.6 million for a death rate of 10.77%
  • Japan - 2.6 million dead out of pop. of 71.3 million for a death rate of 3.6%
  • Soviet Union - 23.2 million dead out of pop. of 168.5 million for a death rate of 13.77%
  • UK - 450,400 dead out of a pop. of 47.8 million for a death rate of 0.94%

Let us look at the death rate suffered by the USA and compare it to some of these other countries and to Australia. The USA had 418,500 dead out of pop. of 131 million for a death rate of 0.32%. If the US had suffered the same death rate as

  • Soviet Union, it would had had 18 million of its citizens killed
  • Germany, it would had had 14.1 million of its citizens killed
  • Japan, it would had had 4.7 million of its citizens killed
  • UK, it would had had 1.2 million of its citizens killed
  • New Zealand, it would had had 956,000 of its citizens killed
  • Australia, it would had had 760,000 of its citizens killed

This, of course, is not to belittle the sacrifice made by the USA in WW2. Rather, it is an attempt to put the sacrifices made by many countries in some sort of historical and statistical perspective. So when Americans talk about "the Greatest Generation" they need to remember that other nations too had their "even Greater Generation" (if "greatness" can be measured in sacrifices made and lives lost).

The Golden Years of ANZAC Day commemorations were the 2 decades immediately following the end of WW2 before it suffered a temporary eclipse as a result of the strong anti-Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These are the years of the "Second Generation" of ANZACs and their attitudes about what they had achieved influenced the way in which ANZAC Day developed in the post-war period. On this I would like to make the following observations:

  • the 2nd generation had the burden of wanting to live up to the achievements of the 1st generation of ANZACs (testing themselves against a very high standard)
  • they just as willingly went off to fight for God, King, and Country/Empire half way around the globe, but when war broke out in Australia's part of the world after December 1941 the war suddenly became much more personal in that Australia itself was under attack for the first time
  • it also meant that Australia could no longer deny that it was part of Asia (or at least "tied" to Asia in numerous ways) and that in future it would have to engage in more constructive relationships with its regional neighbours
  • it was a shocking thing for the 2nd generation to accept that the British Empire was no longer able to defend Australia and that Australia would have either to become more independent or find another protector (or both)
  • this began a long-term alliance with the rising power of the USA which later led to Australia's participation in additional wars in Korea, Vietnam, and in the Gulf in support of the US
  • although the death rate was much lower for the ANZACs in WW2 than in WW1 the fighting in some ways was worse, in that for the first time large numbers of Australians were taken prisoner by the Japanese and badly mistreated (22,000 POWs or just over half the number of those who died - how could they square the shame of being a prisoner with the powerful ANZAC myth?) and much of the fighting in the Pacific had a very nasty racial tinge to it
  • for some men it was the second time in their lifetimes that a global war had broke out

Of the many men and women who were part of the Second Generation of ANZACs I would like to briefly mention Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop (1907-1993) who has become one of the most reverred ANZACs to have survived WW2 and who personifies a number of the points I have made above. Weary Dunlop was training as a surgeon in London when the war broke out. He volunteered to serve in the Australian Army Medical Corps and saw service in the Middle East, North Africa (Tobruk), Greece and Crete. When Japan attacked he was transferred to Java in the Asian theatre where he was captured, he then spent time in Changi prison in Singapore, before being sent to Thailand to work on the infamous Thai-Burma railway. He was responsible for trying to keep thousands of POWs alive as they were being worked or beaten to death by the Japanese. On many occasions he risked his own life by standing up to brutal Japanese guards. Thus Weary Dunlop's experiences in WW2 illustrate a number of the themes I have mentioned today about what ANZAC Day has come to mean to Australians:

  • he immediately volunteered to fight for the British Empire when war broke in Europe
  • he rushed back to defend Australia when the war spread to Asia and Australia itself was threatened
  • he had to endure the humiliation of capture and the appalling brutality of his and others' treatment at the hands of the Japanese, and helped define a new meaning of what courage and heroism means in wartime, thereby creating a new dimension to the ANZAC spirit

This new spirit of what it means to be an ANZAC, what we are commemorating here today, came out in Weary Dunlop's best selling memoirs which appeared in 1986. After the war he spent much time defending the interests of former POWs, encouraging better understanding of Asia by Australians, and in fostering reconciliation between former enemies in the Asian region. He recounts in his war diaries an encounter after the war had ended with some wounded Japanese who had been sent to Thailand from Burma along the very railway line that had cost so many Allied lives:

I paused before a man whose wretchedness equalled the plight of one of my own men - one leg had been hacked off at the mid-thigh and the bone stump projected through gangrenous flesh; his eyes were sunken pools of pain in a haggard, toxic face. With indomitable spirit he had hopped...hundreds of suffering miles without care. Some bombs fell and soldiers desperately fought for a place on the moving train. I moved to help him when he was trampled under in the rush, but his hand was limp and dead, and his tortured face was at peace. The memory dwelt with me as a lingering nightmare and I was deeply conscious of the Buddhist belief that all men are equal in the face of suffering and death.

It is in Weary Dunlop's spirit of regret at the enormous loss of life in war and the ultimate equality of men from all sides that I ask you to join with me in the traditional ANZAC remembrance of the fallen:

“For the Fallen” (Ode - Dawn Service Canberra 25 April 2007 - 3.5 MB MP3 file):

“They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We will remember them.”



Death rates in W2 [from Wikipedia World War II Casualties] [See also World War I/Casualties]:

Country Population 1939 Military deaths Civilian deaths Jewish Holocaust deaths Total deaths Deaths/ % of population
Albania[1] 1,073,000 28,000 200 28,200 2.63%
Australia[2] 6,998,000 40,400 100 40,500 0.58%
Austria[3] 6,653,000 45,000 65,000 110,000 1.65%
Belgium[4] 8,387,000 12,100 52,000 24,000 88,100 1.05%
Brazil[5] 40,289,000 1,000 2,000 0.00%
Bulgaria[6] 6,458,000 22,000 22,000 0.34%
Burma[7] 16,119,000 60,000 60,000 0.37%
Canada[8] 11,267,000 45,300 45,300 0.40%
China[9] 517,568,000 3,000,000 7,000,000 10,000,000 1.93%
Cuba[10] 4,235,000 100 100 0.00%
Czechoslovakia[11] 15,300,000 25,000 63,000 277,000 365,000 2.39%
Denmark[12] 3,795,000 1,300 1,800 100 3,200 0.08%
Estonia[13] 1,134,000 40,000 1,000 41,000 3.62%
Ethiopia[14] 17,700,000 5,000 200,000 205,000 1.16%
Finland[15] 3,700,000 95,000 2,000 97,000 2.62%
France[16] 41,700,000 212,000 267,000 83,000 562,000 1.35%
French Indo-China[17] 24,600,000 1,000,000 1,000,000 4.07%
Germany[18][19][20] 69,623,000 5,500,000 1,840,000 160,000 7,500,000 10.77%
Greece[21] 7,222,000 20,000 209,000 71,000 300,000 4.15%
Hungary[22] 9,129,000 300,000 80,000 200,000 580,000 6.35%
Iceland[23] 119,000 200 200 0.17%
India[24] 378,000,000 87,000 1,500,000 1,587,000 0.42%
Indonesia[25] 69,435,000 4,000,000 4,000,000 5.76%
Iran[26] 14,340,000 200 200 0.00%
Iraq[27] 3,698,000 1,000 1,000 0.03%
Ireland[28] 2,960,000 200 200 0.00%
Italy[29] 44,394,000 306,400 145,100 8,000 459,500 1.04%
Japan[30] 71,380,000 2,000,000 600,000 2,600,000 3.61%
Korea[31] 23,400,000 60,000 60,000 0.26%
Latvia[32] 1,995,000 147,000 80,000 227,000 11.38%
Lithuania[33] 2,575,000 212,000 141,000 353,000 13.71%
Luxembourg[34] 295,000 1,000 1,000 2,000 0.68%
Malaya[35] 4,391,000 100,000 100,000 2.28%
Malta[36] 269,000 1,500 1,500 0.56%
Mexico[37] 19,320,000 100 100 0.00%
Mongolia[38] 819,000 300 300 0.04%
Netherlands[39] 8,729,000 7,900 92,000 106,000 205,900 2.36%
Newfoundland[40] 300,000 1,000 100 1,100 0.37%
New Zealand[41] 1,629,000 11,900 11,900 0.73%
Norway[42] 2,945,000 3,000 5,800 700 9,500 0.32%
Philippines[43] 16,000,000 57,000 90,000 147,000 0.92%
Pacific Islands[44] 1,900,000 57,000 57,000 3.0%
Poland[45] 34,775,000 400,000 2,200,000 3,000,000 5,600,000 16.10%
Portuguese Timor[46] 500,000 55,000 55,000 11.0%
Romania[47] 19,934,000 316,000 56,000 469,000 841,000 4.22%
Singapore[48] 728,000 50,000 50,000 6.87%
South Africa[49] 10,160,000 11,900 11,900 0.12%
Soviet Union[50] 168,500,000 10,700,000 11,500,000 1,000,000 23,200,000 13.77%
Spain[51] 25,637,000 4,500 4,500 0.02%
Sweden[52] 6,341,000 0.00%
Switzerland[53] 4,210,000 100 100 0.00%
Thailand[54] 15,023,000 5,600 5,600 0.04%
United Kingdom[55] 47,760,000 382,600 67,800 450,400 0.94%
United States[56] 131,028,000 407,300 11,200 418,500 0.32%
Yugoslavia[57] 15,400,000 446,000 514,000 67,000 1,027,000 6.67%
Totals 1,961,839,000 24,456,700 32,327,100 5,754,000 62,537,800 3.19%

Australian prisoners of the Japanese [See AWM -]

Weary Dunlop [AWM bio] and quote []